Thursday, May 16, 2013

Listening Inside the Box- A short story

I originally wrote this story a few years ago to enter in a magazine contest. I never ended up entering it, but I put it on my other blog. I thought it belonged on this blog as well.

“I don’t really remember when it started, but I know it was out of my control. One day I was sitting with my mom playing, and the next I couldn’t take my eyes off the pattern of the ball in my hands. Mom kept trying so hard to take that ball away, but all I could see were the bright swirling colors, and I kept following them. I think for a while she figured I had just become attached to it like any other child with a toy. But then one day I saw something I had never seen in mom- fear. She kept calling my name and talked frantically to me.”
“Chase, Chase! Mommy’s talking to you! Why don’t you look at me anymore! Give me that silly ball, and look at me!”
“I remember I just started crying uncontrollably. That’s when I saw that fear cross her face. It was as if she knew I was gone, but I really wasn’t. I was there all along. I understood their dilemma. It was impossible for me to communicate what I was thinking. I tried so hard, but in the process I hurt myself and broke things.”
“I loved spending time with my mom and dad. I could see they loved me and wanted me to be there. They taught me the alphabet, and they read to me every day. I know those books from memory now. And I read them even though they didn’t know it. They would be so surprised if they knew how much they had taught me. I saw the sadness in their eyes when I didn’t respond to them.”
“I remember the first time they took me to a doctor to be checked out. I was playing in a room, but I could just tell they were watching me. It made me nervous, and I started to cry. It scared me. I wondered what they were going to do. If only I could explain that I just was stuck inside of myself. We met with the doctor after he had observed me for a time. I sat in the corner examining the ball that I carried with me everywhere I went. I could hear their concerned voices. They didn’t whisper.”
“After observing Chase’s behavior today, I’m almost certain he is autistic.”
“I heard the gasp from my mom and the sad groan from my dad. It was almost like they had been told their son was dying. Perhaps in their mind, I was. They began discussing what to do with me. My parents said they wanted to care for me themselves. I was relieved. I couldn’t imagine at the time what else they would have done with me. Since then, I know that there are places for kids like me. At that time, I wasn’t really sure what autism was. I was only four years old. I knew it had something to do with this silly ball I carried with me. I just couldn’t let go of it though. I really wanted to. I wanted to run and hug my mom and dad and tell them I was really okay, but something was wrong.”
“Not much changed after that first meeting. The one change was that my mom was always reading about autism and talking about it with my dad. They had special activities for me to do. They may have helped, but all that time I just wanted to talk to them and tell them I was really okay. They didn’t need to worry. I knew my alphabet. I could count to fifty, and I could even read some of my books. I was six when I first put the letters together the way mom did when she would read. I just wish she had known.”
“As I got older, I know it became harder for my parents in some ways. All of their friend’s kids played sports and were in special plays. And there I was carrying around that silly ball. Some days I wished they would just burn it. I think I would have been fine eventually if they had. I probably would have just replaced it though with some other repetitive design.”
“When I was fifteen, my mom had a break through. She was watching me sitting following the design of the ball, and jumped to her feet.”
“That’s it!” she said “I wonder if art would help. You love that design on the ball. Maybe if you could make your own it would help!”
“I wasn’t sure what to think I thought I knew what art was. They had taken me to an art museum, and I loved to stare at the beautiful paintings. They seemed to almost sing as I followed the colors, and as I absorbed the beauty I could almost taste it. I wondered what she meant that maybe I could make my own.”
“The next thing I knew she had a pad of paper and some colored pencils. She had tried to teach me to write in the past, but my fingers just didn’t seem to work, so she stopped making me try. This time she put the paper in front of me with the pencils and said I could make whatever I wanted. Of course I started with the ball I carried everywhere. I worked for hours on that picture. It was perfect. The colors, the designs, the shapes were the exact image of that ball. The funny thing was that I was no longer following those designs with my eyes. I was creating something of my own. I think that was a turning point for me.”
“I still remember her reaction when I finished drawing the ball.”
“Chase, it’s beautiful!” “She hugged me and I jerked away. I didn’t want to, but it almost hurt to be hugged even though I loved my mom. She didn’t seem to mind though and just couldn’t take her eyes off my drawing.”
“From that point, she would bring me things to draw, and I would draw them perfectly. I loved to draw. Amazingly, I forgot about the ball I used to carry around. Now I carried my sketch pad and pencils. Then one day, something even more wonderful happened. My mom wanted me to draw her. Everything else I had drawn had been objects that I or someone in the house used every day, but this was my mom who I loved more than she knew. She sat down in front of me, and I began. I saw pain in my mother’s eyes. I knew the pain was because of me. I wanted to draw her how she really looked because that’s what I did, but this was my mother. I wanted to draw her how she would be if it had not been for the pain I had caused her. I took away the frown wrinkles and downward creases around her mouth. I put a twinkle in her eye, and then I looked up at her and smiled.”
“Age and sadness dropped from my mom’s face in that instant. I spoke. It wasn’t with words, but it was with my smile. Not only did that smile speak, but so did my drawing. It spoke my love for my mom. She started to cry then and wouldn’t stop hugging me. It didn’t hurt like before. Something had happened. I think that’s when I broke out of the box.”
The man sitting politely across from Chase had not spoken for an hour. He had just let him speak. Now his expression was dumbfounded at how Chase’s story had unfolded, but he couldn’t help but speak now. “This is an amazing story Chase. So did you literally talk to your mom that day?” The man seemed to be sitting on the edge of his seat in anticipation of the conclusion to Chase’s story.
“I didn’t speak right away. But I started using drawing to communicate. I drew my dad too just like I had my mom. It meant so much to him. I drew a football from memory because I wanted to learn to play. He went right out and bought a ball for me. It wasn’t long before things began to normalize. I was communicating with my art. Something was missing though. I knew what it was, but it had been so long. I wanted to talk to my parents. I wanted to tell them so much.”
“On my eighteenth birthday, my parents had a big party for me with friends and family. People knew I had made some progress. They had heard about how I was using art to communicate. We were all sitting in the living room talking, and this rather outspoken man spoke to my mom, ‘You’d think you would have thought of having him draw sooner. Maybe you wouldn’t have been so unhappy all these years.’ I saw the sadness return to my mom’s eyes at that moment, and for the first time I was angry at someone outwardly. I was really angry, and I started talking in a hoarse raspy voice. I looked at my parents and told them I loved them, and that I wouldn’t trade the time just listening to them for anything. I knew them better than most children know their parents. I looked at the man triumphantly with that last comment. His own son was my age. He had been a football star, but he had gotten caught taking drugs and was dropped from the team. I couldn’t help but wander back to my box for a moment and think ‘what if?’ I walked right out of the box again because it was time. It was time to not just listen, but it was my time to speak.”
The television studio filled with applause as Chase finished speaking. The anchorman sitting across from Chase was speechless. Chase had shared his life in an hour of television, but in the time he spent in his little box, he had learned so much more than those watching him. For he had spent his life so far, listening.

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